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VOL. XXIII NO. 18, JANUARY 1-15, 2014
Short 'N' Snappy

Ringing it in with cell-phones

The Man from Madras Musings has, during the past one month, spent many a happy hour at sabhas and has come away an enlightened man. This is not merely with reference to music, but also audience behaviour. On the latter, MMM has come to the conclusion that you can make out the various stereotypes based on the cell-phones they carry and their usage.

Among these, the elderly invariably forgets to switch off his/her phone or put it onto silent mode. The instrument rings at the most unexpected moments during concerts, adding to the music in the air. The owner of the phone, thanks to either hearing loss or loss of consciousness owing to this being siesta time, or being lost in the music, is invariably blissfully unaware of the persistent rings. Keeping the eyes closed also means that the person is not able to see the angry looks of everyone around. After a while, someone in the vicinity picks up courage to prod the person into the present and whisper (and at times roar) that the phone is ringing and something ought to be done about it.

Whereupon, the senior citizen begins delving into his/her handbag and produces in the order named – the sabha ticket, a packet of vibhuti prasadam from a temple, a couple of medicine bottles, and cash. All the while, now that the bag is open, the phone rings louder than ever, enough to make even the percussionist pause and look around. By this time, the phone has ceased ringing. Peace is restored (if a Carnatic concert can ever be deemed peaceful) and everyone goes back to listening. It is then the cash, the medicine bottles, the sacred ash and the ticket are put back, the bag zipped tight. The senior citizen closes his/her eyes. This is usually the cue for the phone to ring again, the caller no doubt anxious to know where ancestor is and why ancestor is not answering.

The procedure as described above is repeated, except that willing hands are happy to help from all around. Someone grabs the bag, others rummage within and soon enough the offending phone is found and thrust into the hands of its owner with the terse remark that it better be silenced. But our senior citizen is made of sterner stuff. He first answers the call, speaks in usual stentorian tone into the instrument, assures whoever is in Denver, Saratoga or Milwaukee that all is well and that the milk did come and what was that? Oh yes, the medicines arrived and had done wonders for skin itch.

Those who are new to the Carnatic environment, and that includes the Chief who is ever an outsider, will no doubt assume that by now the concert would have ground to a complete halt. But that is where they make their bloomin’ error. The music proceeds unimpeded, artistes and audience having decided to ‘adjust’ (fast becoming our national motto – and a word in the Oxford lexicon – ‘jugaad’) and go on, leaving Methuselah to his devices.

At this point, MMM has observed that these phone-wielding paters/maters divide themselves into two sub-categories. The first disconnects and then turns around and requests someone to put the phone on to silent. The other variety is brazen. He/she tells whoever it is at the other end (the caller from Denver) that he/she is in a concert and would the caller care to listen? Whereupon the phone is kept on for the rest of the concert, with the numbers in the audience now added to by one more, who is there in spirit if not in form. This is a good thing from MMM’s point of view, for there will be no more calls till the concert is over.

MMM is aware that by sending this piece in, he is going to be cursed by several readers of this column for his insensitivity to the elderly. Let MMM assure them that he is second to none in his respect for the aged. And he is aware that there are several who are comfortable handling gadgets and this is, therefore, not a generalisation. This piece is on those who are not so savvy and, what is worse, give a damn about it. And they do not mind making nuisances of themselves at music performances. To them MMM addresses this missive and is fully braced to receive brickbats in writing. No cell-phone calls, please.

The recorders

If that is the tale on those advanced in years, The Man from Madras Musings now speaks of those who are advanced in technology. This variety comes armed with not just a cell-phone but also what is known as a tablet. And these are not the tablets you found in the antediluvian’s purse but those of an electronic variety onto which you can record just about anything. Owners of these are obsessed with leaving behind evidence for posterity and they capture onto the i-pad/tablet anything and everything – the sky, the earth, the traffic and, when in concerts, the music.

There was a time, MMM remembers, when artistes would strongly object to them. Some used to stop mid-performance to make some stern observations to those attempting to record. But now, it appears, they have given up on such blatant trespass of copyright. The recorder, therefore, does this brazenly. But it is often forgotten that it is an unfortunate distraction for everyone, artiste and audience. The device is held up like a mirror, obscuring the stage from view for several among audience. But all this does not matter to the recorder, who is quite oblivious of the nuisance caused. He/she continues and ever so often keeps making minor adjustments. All this really means that he/she hardly listened to the performance. MMM is of the view that some of them might not even be aware of the concert in progress, such being their absorption in their gadgetry.

A sub-category among the recorders is even more advanced. This one sneers at the use of something so obvious as a massive i-pad. They instead have a cell-phone that does it all – from recording to photography to texting to tweeting to… Seated next to this kind, you are not disturbed by any sound other than the music, but there is so much going on by your side that it almost gives you the impression that you are with a one-man mobile office. It makes you quite tired just to watch it.


There have been several concerts that The Man from Madras Musings attended, where the audience strength was far exceeded by the number of performers on stage. In MMM’s considered view, such concerts could be held in the committee room of the sabha and not elsewhere. MMM did air such a thought to one of the big chiefs of the season but it did not go down well. It was the view of that chief (not MMM’s Chief) that the music season had a higher purpose as a showcase of art and that everything is not to be looked at from commercial angle. MMM says amen to this.


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In this issue

Still waiting for a Tree Act
What does the Metro Plan for RSRM Choultry
Sadir to Bharata Natyam
The Madras Balloon
A Further Look at our Trees
Krishnan and his Tamil Writings
Headlines & Tailpieces

Our Regulars

Short 'N' Snappy
Readers Write
Quizzin' With Ram'nan
Madras Eye
Dates for Your Diary


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